I have been having great fun answering some well-worded critical questions brought by Charles, a Christian who inclines towards Israel but who has been disillusioned by some anti-church, immature voices calling themselves Messianic Jewish. In this part of the series, I will tackle a few more of Charles’ critical comments and questions.
5) I am a follower of the new covenant written on my heart. Does NOT mean that I ignore the old, but it is a guideline and even Jesus summed it all up in the two great commandments. We are to love God with all our hearts plus … and our neighbours as ourselves.
6) Even tho I think it is wonderful if you feel like celebrating Shabat on Friday to Saturday, I don’t think God is up there saying, ” SORRY YOU ARE CELEBRATING MY SABBATH ON SUNDAY, SO YOU JUST DON’T MEASURE UP. YOU ARE A SECOND-CLASS BELIEVER” I have SO MUCH trouble believing that would be his attitude.
7) A kosher diet may be great. I do eat all the healthy foods I can. But to me this is God’s diet given for the time period since the Israelites could not possibly understand about germs and bacteria and meat spoiling in hot desert suns and Best Buy was just too far away to purchase a refrigerator! Perhaps if a person is NOT healthy, it may be great to practise kosher to see if it makes you better. But pills sometimes make me better and I will NOT eat them regularly!
I am particularly interested in answering #5. The New Covenant is rather a soapbox of mine. I’d like to address a few myths about the New Covenant, some of which may be implied in Charles’ comment and some of which may not:
Myth #1: The New Covenant is roughly synonymous with the New Testament. (Note: Even a lot of people in MJ call the New Testament the New Covenant or B’rit Hadasha).
Myth #2: The New Covenant is now.
Myth #3: The New Covenant is God’s covenant with the church.
Myth #4: The Torah is written on the hearts of all Yeshua-followers and is synonymous with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Let me tackle each myth with the corresponding reality from Jeremiah 31:31-34:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Reality #1: The Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament) is not the Old Covenant nor is the New Testament the New Covenant. The Hebrew Bible and New Testament are collections of writings considered canonical or divinely inspired (I believe them to be inspired and infallible, thought there are textual issues). The New Covenant is not a collection of writings. It is not even a law code. It is an agreement God makes with Israel and Judah about his ways with his people.
Reality #2: The New Covenant is with Israel and Judah. Here is the key: as with the Abrahamic and even the Sinai covenants, there are implications for the nations whenever God makes a covenant with Israel. God’s blessing flows through Israel to the nations. This is a point that deserves extensive development, but I am trying to be brief. Here is an example of what I mean: Yeshua’s salvific death on the cross was for Israel, to rescue Israel from exile and the curse of Torah, yet all from the nations who are drawn to Yeshua’s sacrifice receive the same benefits as Israel. It was this way in Torah as well. Gentiles drawn to Israel’s God received blessing (Naaman is a favorite example).
Reality #3: The New Covenant is not now. It has begun in the same way the Age to Come has begun. It is only here in shadow. The reality has yet to arrive. Yeshua said his blood was the New Covenant (Luke 22:20). Paul said he was a servant of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). Yet when the New Covenant is here, things will be quite different: all people will know God. We will not have to teach people to know God. Anyone can see this is not yet true. Yeshua’s words could be paraphrased: “This cup, poured out for you, is the Age to Come in my blood.” He was announcing a profound inbreaking of the future into the present, not a realized consummation of all things.
Reality #4: “Torah written on our hearts” is not a present reality. I can understand how it is simple to equate Torah-on-hearts with our present experience of the Holy Spirit. I think this is a great mistake. I think it is better associated with Deuteronomy 30:6, “I will cirumcise your heart . . . so that you will love HaShem your God with all your heart.” That is, our present experience of the Holy Spirit is special, but we have not yet graduated to perfect love. No, when Torah-on-hearts is here, then “And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today” (Deut. 30:8). That is, Torah-on-hearts means perfect obedience and love. Not here yet.
In Charles’ sixth point, he has apparently experienced some sort of anti-church rhetoric about the Sabbath and Sunday worship. Let me say categorically, Messianic Jews coming from a mature understanding of Torah and non-Jews do not say such things. We are not against Sunday worship. Charles, I’ll gladly go to church with you on any Sunday and worship right with you. You are my brother, not my enemy, and Sunday is a fine day to worship.
Sabbath is a day of worship only because it is the only day not devoted to work in ancient Israel. God never mandated a worship service on Saturday (or Sunday). These are traditions.
The anti-church rhetoric of some, that Sunday worship is a sign of pagan influence, is dead wrong. Yeshua rose on Sunday. It is a very early tradition, and a good one, that Christians worship on Sunday. It should not be a rule (Thursday church is good too), but a tradition of enduring beauty in remembering the day of Yeshua’s raising. If anyone would care to debate me on this, I would be delighted. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, I will answer Charles’ seventh point very briefly. He has apparently been exposed to the fallacious teaching that the kosher laws are about health. Let me say this loud and strong: God did not give the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 for health reasons, but for reasons of sanctity and to communicate to Israel that God is not a God of death, but of life. That is, the dietary laws are symbolic, not a pre-scientific system of healthy diet that can now be dispensed with.
For those who will want to write me and tell me all the things they heard about how bad pork is for you or how gross it is to eat bottom-feeders, etc., please study the Jewish opinion on this subject. You can only be an amateur if you claim knowledge on this topic and have not read the rabbinic point of view on the matter. I also issue these challenges: carp is kosher but catfish is not and yet both are bottom-feeders, rabbit is pretty healthy but not kosher, ostrich is very healthy but not kosher, chickens eat their own excrement as well as bugs and worms, and nowhere does Leviticus 11 say anything about health. Learn what the impurity laws of Israel were all about. You could read Jacob Milgrom’s fine set of commentaries on Leviticus to learn about these things (or my book, A New Look at the Old Testament).
Charles, those of us who are serious about Judaism and Yeshua would never hit you with the awful things you refer to in points 6 and 7. We are not anti-church or anti-Christian. We are all part of the Body of Messiah, Jew and non-Jew, distinct yet in unity. That is the way it should be.